Aaliyah’s fan sites helped maintain her legacy when paperwork prevented her music from accessing streaming services
The sudden death of 22-year-old singer and actress Aaliyah Houghton on August 25, 2001 has sparked many memories for the tragic loss of one of entertainment’s most promising stars. Fans gathered for a candlelight vigil, created makeshift memorials, and left flowers at his grave. Posthumous music videos for “More Than a Woman”, “Rock the Boat” and “I Care 4 U” left touching notes in her memory and brought her family and friends together, TV specials paid tribute to his life and a compilation album of old and unreleased tracks released in December 2002.
But as time filled the space since his passing, another trend began to emerge.
Although Aaliyah’s official site was used after her death to share old home videos, rare childhood photos, audio clips, and merchandise, updates waned after the mid-2000s. He went on to primarily become a hub for one-off updates to his estate, with years of dormancy until a major renovation in 2017. And various business issues and lawsuits surrounding his record company Blackground Records, which was run by her uncle Barry Hankerson, led to the loss of her distribution agreement, making it difficult for fans to easily acquire physical copies of her music.
As information from the singer’s official channels dwindled, a dense network of Aaliyah fan sites emerged to fill the information gap and provide a community for those who are still fascinated by her powerful legacy.
Fan sites became a growing part of artist fan communities in the mid-90s and dot-com era, initially surfacing as rudimentary web pages, online forums, and message boards. But by the mid-2000s, social media had created a new space for music communities to connect globally. Aaliyah’s dedicated fan group has launched websites, Facebook groups, social media accounts on Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest to share photos, old press clippings, status updates. his music catalog and questions regarding rumors and confirmed collaborations with his estate.
Accounts such as Aliya Archives, Remember Aaliyah, Aaliyah always and Legion of Aaliyah have become essential when it comes to bringing up, documenting and archiving information about the life and art of Aaliyah.
Aaliyah Archives founder Sandy – who is only given her first name for privacy purposes – first launched her site in 2013 as a personal blog and decided to expand it when she made the extent of photos and other content she had amassed. Aaliyah Archives Twitter, the Instagram page and website have since become essential spaces for the Aaliyah fan community.
“Initially, I just did it as a side hobby, just a labor of love and for Baby Girl. I didn’t really think anything would come of it. It’s just something that grew organically, ”Sandy told Mic, adding that she doesn’t sell ads. “… there was something about [Aaliyah] that was unique and different. She just got it. As fans we have to show it to remind people [of her full impact]. It is about sharing this love and this joy of the same artist with whom we have this bond.
Sharing photos, videos and other exclusive or rarely seen visual content is a key part of the day-to-day work of these sites. But over the past decade, they have also focused heavily on organizing the fight for Aaliyah’s music to be played in outlets continuously. This included launching a social media campaign with the hashtag #FreeAaliyahMusic in early 2020 to have his songs posted on streaming services.
In August 2021, the elusive Hankerson revealed a major update: He was relaunching his label as Blackground 2.0, and he had partnered with music company EMPIRE, meaning Aaliyah’s albums and 17 more Blackground albums would finally hit streaming outlets via a staggered release date schedule. First up: Aaliyah’s second album One in a million August 20. His eponymous third album will be released on September 10.
For Sandy, the announcement was a welcome close to one of the most frustrating chapters in the quest to keep Aaliyah’s memory alive. The presence of her last two albums on streaming services gives new listeners access to her music, and Aaliyah’s fan community another resource to share her story.
“For his music for so long not to be there, it’s just shameful,” Sandy said. “… The younger generations live in an age where everything is online, everything is streaming. That’s all they know. As his music is finally available, it’s amazing. “
As a person who grew up when CDs and cassettes were still the main music formats, Sandy still has access to her physical copies of Aaliyah’s albums and easily understands how to listen to them. But as Gen Z joined the ranks of Aaliyah fans, Sandy says she took responsibility for talking to these young fans about their options for getting physical copies of Aaliyah’s music and digitizing them for their use. staff.
“I had fans like, ‘How do I get this? Where did you get this CD from? How do I export music to my iTunes? ‘ A lot of young fans didn’t know how to do that, ”Sandy said.
Since the announcement, she said, she has received fewer of these requests, giving her more time to focus more on the day-to-day operations of her site and “archive stuff here and there.”
Producer and songwriter Craig King, who has produced several tracks on One in a million, thanks the fan pages for continuing to give music a voice, even when it has not been easily accessible to them.
“It’s hard to know [what role fan sites played in the streaming release] because I’m not inside the label or the management team, but if I could guess I’m sure they played a huge role, ”King said. “… Honestly, they’ve been the only lifeline I’ve seen that has protected, defended, and uplifted her for the past two decades.”
Beyond their focus on her music, the sites also detail the full extent of Aaliyah’s gifts and impact as an artist. Each site has its own focus and perspective, so the network offers a comprehensive insight into the singer’s public personality, career successes, and the intriguing aura that still has a grip on pop culture for decades to come. later.
Aaliyah always organize a mix of fan art, photos of Aaliyah and old weekly press clips on the Tumblr blog, as well as a calendar of upcoming events related to Aaliyah. Twitter Aaliyah Graphics Much of the focus is on sharing stats and facts about Aaliyah and recent graphics performance updates from her work.
Aaliyah Archives has a detailed timeline on her site that gives the full scope of her work as a singer, actress, and designer. These life and career details can routinely be overlooked in conversations surrounding Aaliyah’s influence – her impact on the industry being steadily diminished to focus largely on her influence on fashion trends, style and influence. of beauty.
The creators of the sites spend hours putting together new footage to post, researching leads sent to them by members of the fan community on topics related to Aaliyah and her estate, and putting together short video montages from clips and images of Aaliyah. Sandy says maintaining a fan site is harder work than many realize.
“It’s a huge responsibility on my shoulders. I’ve been keeping it for so long. It’s been over eight years now, ”says Sandy. “There are a lot of fans who say, ‘Never get rid of this site. We need it.’ It can be difficult because I get a lot of negative reactions, hate and trolls. But I think I’m strong enough to handle it. I’m just going to grab a block, take it forward.
They have also been instrumental in supporting, researching, and engaging with creative contributors to Aaliyah’s projects over the course of their careers, including multiple producers and writers on her albums, her stylist Derek Lee, and her late makeup artist. Eric Ferrell, who passed away in late 2020. Journalist and author Kathy Iandoli also credited Sandy with helping her find a source for her new biography of Aaliyah. Little girl: better known as Aaliyah.
“I think we collectively cried on each other’s shoulders. I feel their energy, their honesty and their curiosity. They honestly feel like family to me at this point, ”King said. “They tag me in their posts, they inbox me quite often, they ask me all kinds of questions about Aaliyah and her family. In fact, they were the ones who told me that I had released a record in Japan that I didn’t even know about. Honestly, they are just awesome.
Despite all their interconnection, Aaliyah fan sites have also been the source of some dissension – in large part due to the generation gap that has widened between Aaliyah fans who have grown up engaging. in her art while she was still alive and those who entered the fandom after her death. . It gets even more complicated when it comes to conversations about the tension between his estate and Blackground Records; the first published a declaration as late as early August, this hints at a lack of transparency around the streaming deal.
“As a fan it’s a bit confrontational. You want to support the family and everything, but at the same time the music is there, ”Sandy said. “… As unfortunate as it may be, I just hope the family and Barry Hankerson can come to some sort of resolution where they can come together for the sake of Baby Girl – because that’s really what it is. it’s about.”
Until then, however, Sandy says fan sites will continue their work to represent Aaliyah and make room to commemorate the pioneering talent lost two decades ago.
“I feel like the fans as a whole, from OGs, from the older generation of my time, to even some of the younger fans in their mid-twenties and even younger fans in their early twenties. twenties and teens, were the ones who kind of laid that foundation [of honoring Aaliyah’s memory online]”Sandy said.” As an older fan, that’s what you want. You want this legacy passed on to the younger generations.